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English test to exit 'gaokao'
Last Updated: 2013-12-09 09:50 | CE.cn
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By Li Hongmei

The English test will be removed from China's gaokao (the national college entrance exam) by 2020, according to details of exam and admission reform revealed by the Ministry of Education.

Instead, tests will be held several times a year to allow students to choose when and how often they sit the exam so as to alleviate study pressure and change China's once-in-a-lifetime exam system.

The plan and suggestions for its implementation will be announced in the first half of next year. It will be piloted in selected provinces and cities and promoted nationwide from 2017. A new exam and admission system will be established by 2020, according to the education ministry.

The decision has aroused a heated discussion among both educators and parents who doubted the reform would reduce the burden of learning English or if the substitute test could reflect a student's English skills and help students learn English better.

"The reform shows China is learning from the West to give students more test-taking chances. But more chances might become more of a burden since Chinese students are likely to repeat the test until they get the highest score," said Cai Jigang, a professor at Fudan University's College of Foreign Languages and Literature and chairman of the Shanghai Advisory Committee for College English Teaching at Tertiary Level.

Cai said he was against any plan to reduce the status of English in the college entrance exam because it failed to take into account the nation's demand for foreign language ability, the demand to accept the challenge of globalization and the internationalization of higher education.

Yu Lizhong, chancellor of New York University Shanghai, where classes are in English and students are required to have a high standard of English, said the most important aspect of the reform lay in what to test and how to test.

"As far as I see, the reform doesn't mean English is no longer important for Chinese students after it will be excluded from the unified college entrance exam," Yu said. "In a way, English is even more important than before since the test would only serve as reference, while every college and university, even every major, can have different requirements of a student's English skills under a diverse evaluation system."

Yu said some students will have their study pressure reduced if the major they choose doesn't need excellent English while others still need to study hard if they want to be among the best students.

Yu said he was looking forward to hearing details of the new English test to see how it might alter current English teaching in China from test-oriented to ability-oriented.

Zhang Hui, the mother of a fourth-grade girl, said English was her daughter's strength, so canceling the English test would not favor her child.

"I know I say this quite selfishly, but my daughter's strength will no longer be a distinguished advantage if students can take the test for many times and get equally good scores," Zhang said.

Even so, Zhang said she would continue to let her daughter study English in and out of class because her daughter likes English and she might study overseas in the future.

Educators also said colleges and universities would not lower English thresholds in some majors since the internationalization of China's higher education was imperative. The role of English as an important tool couldn't be overlooked in many other industries in a world environment.

The education ministry said the reform would not affect students attending the college entrance exam over the next three years.

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